Portland has several nominees up for 2019 James Beard Awards, but don't get too excited, though—once again, the city was snubbed in national categories, leaving some of our most celebrated chefs to duke it out in the regional awards.
The finalists were announced last week. Nominees for Best Chef: Northwest include Peter Cho of Han Oak, Katy Millard of Coquine and Justin Woodward of Castagna, going up against two representatives from Seattle, Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Asian steakhouse Joule and Brady Williams of Canlis.
There is one Portland nominee up for a national award, however: The Racist Sandwich podcast received a nod for an episode on the erasure of black contributions to Texas' world-renowned barbecue scene.
The podcast—an exploration of food and food culture as it relates to issues of race, class and gender—began in 2016 in Portland as a collaborative side project co-hosted by chef-turned-restaurant critic Soleil Ho and journalist Zahir Janmohamed.
Racist Sandwich producer Stephanie Kuo produced the nominated episode, titled "Erasing Black Barbecue." In it, Kuo, talks with experts on the history of soul food and barbecue culture in Texas, including some of its unsung black entrepreneurs: Brent and Juan Reaves of Smokey John's Bar-B-Que in Dallas, and Johnny Walker, owner and pitmaster at Momma Jean's BBQ in Lampasas, Tex.
"This episode speaks to so much," Kuo wrote in an email to Willamette Week. "It's a story about Black and Brown people being recognized properly for their excellence. It's a story about Texas and the South, and all the cultural institutions posh, bi-coastal food media outlets neglect."
For Kuo, an Asian-American originally from Texas, the nomination validates not only the legacy of Texas' underrepresented black barbecue trailblazers but also the experiences and hard work the racially and geographically diverse Racist Sandwich team has done bringing similar stories to a wider audience.
The podcast is currently on hiatus, as hosts Ho and Janmohamed have both left Portland—the latter to pursue a master's degree at University of Michigan and the former to work as a restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle—and Kuo is currently based in Brooklyn.
Producer Juan Diego Ramirez is the only principle member of the team still in town. For him, the nomination is an indicator of the urgency for greater representation, particularly in editorial roles in local media.
"I couldn't be more proud of what we have accomplished with such little resources, but imagine what else we could have if someone would have invested in us," he says. "We need more people of color in media…You can't sleep on us anymore."